The post Clint Worthington’s Favorite Films of the Last 15 Years appeared first on Consequence.
It’s Consequence’s 15th anniversary, and all September long we’ll be publishing a series of retrospective pieces encompassing our publication’s own history — and the entertainment landscape in general. Today, Senior Writer Clint Worthington runs down his favorite movies of the last 15 years.
As I write this, it’s the day after my seven-year anniversary of writing for Consequence. That’s nearly half of its 15-year existence, spanning hundreds of reviews, interviews, features, news items, listicles, rankings, and scores of other pieces. Film critics age in dog years; every year feels like seven. There’s always more to watch — something new to evaluate, something old to celebrate.
I have a great deal of affection for this place, even as editors, managers, and fellow writers come and go while I stick around. It’s the first paid outlet I’ve ever written for — the one that taught me how to format and frame a review, how to think about film in ways beyond “that was good” or “that was bad.” I’ve made lifelong friends here, and grown my own craft as I’ve developed my appreciation for the art of filmmaking.
All of this is to say that, as long as I’ve written for Consequence, the world of cinema has grown and changed — expanded in some ways, contracted frustratingly in others. But for all the crowing about superheroes and streaming and the gasping choke of commerce impacting the moviegoing landscape, great movies still peek out into the light like a flower through pavement.
Here are the fifteen films I treasure most that were released during the first fifteen years of Consequence (long may she reign). And, because I’m greedy, a second (or third or fourth or fifth) movie to pair them with — just in case you don’t want the lights to come up quite yet.
15. The Tree of Life (2011)
When Terrence Malick released The Tree of Life, it had been six years since he’d last graced the cinema (The New World). And with this, his reputation as an airy cinematic dreamer was firmly ensconced in the pop culture consciousness; less a story than a meditation, Malick moves Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain through the frame like silk in a breeze. But their story of familial discord in the 1950s, mighty as it is, pales in comparison to the enormity of the universe. And that’s what makes Malick’s work, scoffed as it is by folks who label it “pretentious,” so quietly moving.
Double Feature: If you want more Brad Pitt hazily contemplating the insignificance of the human experience (plus daddy issues), James Grey’s contemplative sci-fi epic Ad Astra is a beautiful feast for the eyes.
14. A Separation (2011)
Asghar Farhadi’s searing but empathetic family drama paints a portrait of an exhausted couple in an impossible situation — she wants to divorce him so she can leave Iran with her daughter, he can’t leave with her because he must take care of his ailing father. So it goes from there, as Farhadi paints a complicated picture of a group of people trying desperately to use the strict rules of civilization to accommodate everyone’s wants and needs — and, naturally, failing.
Double Feature: For a decidedly more irreverent story about two close companions trying to figure out their next steps in the wake of an imminent rift, try Quentin Tarantino’s jaundiced ode to the golden age of motion pictures, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.
13. The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent’s feature debut spawned more than an unexpected queer icon: It’s a tale of grief, desperation, and the unspoken agonies of single parenthood, spun through the fable of a storybook villain who gives voice to all the little horrors such a life entails. Essie Davis is a tear-soaked revelation as a widow haunted by the sudden death of her husband, and the commensurate resentment that builds against her young, misbehaving son (Noah Wiseman).
It functions as an eerie, suspenseful horror film on its own merits; but in an age where horror-as-metaphor has grown increasingly literal and therefore less interesting (hi, Men!), The Babadook threads the needle between parable and psychosis with particular grace.
Double Feature: Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper is a similarly (though more understatedly) haunting tale of another woman (Kristen Stewart, in one of her very finest performances) driven to desperation by the spectral presence of a family member.
12. Spring Breakers (2013)
Spraaang breeeaaak forever — these are the words cooed by James Franco’s bizarre white rapper/hustler/erstwhile kingpin Alien throughout Harmony Korine’s hypnotic masterwork. It’s bold, deliberately abrasive, and not afraid to indulge in every candy-coated indignity it can foist on its quartet of bikini-clad college girls, including Mouse-House tots Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, playing very much against type.
It’s a film that revels in its off-kilter imagery (girls with pink ski masks and shotguns singing along to Britney Spears’ “Everytime”), and throws a big middle finger to the conventions of narrative cinema. More than that, it both indulges in and deconstructs the guns-drugs-girls-bling id of modern America, and does so in eye-popping detail.
Double Feature (sort of): 2013 was the Year of Greed in American moviemaking, so make a marathon of three other great pictures that elaborated on the excesses of late-capitalist rot: Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, and, yes, Michael Bay’s best film, Pain & Gain.
11. Faces Places (2017)
The late, great Agnès Varda was always one of cinema’s finest pioneers — a playful experimenter who toyed with lens, perspective, and politics, all in the interest of fostering connection. And so it goes with one of her final films, where she and co-director JR roam the French countryside in the latter’s quaint, camera-painted truck, crafting collages of everyday people printed on large-format paper flyposted on the exteriors of the buildings in which they live and work.
It’s an intimate, delightful experiment that touches on everything from our connections with our environment to the power of sight and memory, especially as we start to lose it in our advancing years.
Double Feature: If you want to indulge in absolute dopamine overload, pair this with another Exceedingly Nice Movie, Paul King’s sweet-as-marmalade sequel Paddington 2.
10. First Reformed (2017)
Decades after penning the script to Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader would build another apocalyptic tale around a man frustrated at the inequities of the world around him. But this time, sociopathic killing sprees are replaced by a deep black hole of futile faith, as Ethan Hawke’s embattled priest (one of the best performances in a career of already-great ones) grapples with everything from temptations of the flesh to the looming specter of climate change.
It’s a brilliant encapsulation of so many of our 21st-century anxieties, our desperate knowledge that “somebody has to do something,” but not knowing what must, or can, be done in the face of apathy and greed.
Double Feature: Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis may have a droller spirit than Schrader’s film, but it’s also a tale of a sullen, frustrated man struggling to follow his calling, only for life to slap him down at every turn.
09. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
It’s no understatement to say that superhero movies are Having a Bit of a Moment right now. But for those of us numbed by the studio-mandated sameness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Into the Spider-Verse proved one of the most pleasant, clever surprises of the century. It positively vibrates with kinetic energy, with a multi-media animation style that tosses traditional cel animation with newfangled CG models with street art, pointillist comics, and a host of other disciplines.
And yet, the mess all works, aided by a script that juggles its madcap multiverse with more verve than anything Phase Four has been able to throw at us. I’m almost mad we’re getting a sequel — Into the Spider-Verse feels so special and singular that I’d rather not spoil it through overexposure.
Double Feature: It’s hard to overstate the influence of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight on the ensuing decade-plus of superhero cinema, much less pop culture as a whole. Its shine has dulled a bit as its ubiquity rose, but this pair demonstrates what cape flicks are capable of when not tethered to sprawling studio universes.
08. The Act of Killing (2012)/The Look of Silence (2014)
Joshua Oppenheimer’s one-two punch forces us to sit with the absent consciences of war criminals — the men at all levels of power who facilitated the mass killings of mid-1960s Indonesia. In the first, dictators and flunkies re-enact their crimes in surreal vignettes both stunning and startling. In the second, an optometrist who lost his brother in the killings sits down with those who did it and tries to fix their sight in more ways than one. Individually, they’re brilliant historical documents; combined, they form an astounding portrait of man’s inhumanity to man.
Triple Feature: Want to see more murderers reckoning with/reliving their unscrupulous deeds through the act of theater and play? Why, Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is right there for you!
07. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Hidden in the steady frames and quiet performances of Céline Sciamma’s instant classic is the ineffable nature of desire: The promise of stolen happiness with another, even if it must stay in the shadows.
Charting a love affair between a painter (Noémie Merlant) and her soon-to-be-married subject (Adèle Haenel) in 18th-century France, Sciamma links their impossible affair with the aggravation of artistic creation: their love makes a beautiful painting, destined to vanish in flames. More than just another tale of doomed lesbians, Sciamma’s film imagines a sapphic idyll that would be so sweet to live in… if only it could last.
Double Feature: If we’re talking the challenges of queer womanhood, Dee Rees’ revelatory coming-of-age story Pariah makes a particularly sumptuous followup, with the added complexities of Black queerness thrown in the mix.
06. Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher is, if nothing else, an obsessive: his films are studies in fastidiousness, luxuriating in every picked-over detail of the frame. So it makes sense that one of his very best films is about obsession, and what happens when it can’t be easily fulfilled. Charting the true-crime tale of the Zodiac Killer, and the stalwart cops (Mark Ruffalo) and journalists (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.) who sink years of their lives into catching the guy, Zodiac is a procedural that follows a distinctly unknowable truth. And that’s what’s so enticing about it.
Double Feature: This slot was really a toss-up between Zodiac and Fincher’s other great work of the 21st century not named Mindhunter, The Social Network. So throw both on and swim in the inky, methodical abyss of his sensibilities.
05. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
George Miller’s decades-late return to his Mad Max franchise burst through the screen like a rusty Mack truck, and it took virtually everyone by surprise. An adrenaline-fueled adventure bursting with burnt-orange sand and grizzled performances from Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, it moves with impossible agility from one rust-coated setpiece to another.
And amid all the explosions is a gripping odyssey of women escaping patriarchy, and the ways good men untether themselves from toxicity to help them. We’ve never seen anything like it before, and we haven’t seen anything like it since.
Double Feature: I ruminated long and hard on what films would work best here — the shared feature-length crisis of Gravity, the grungy scowls of Dredd. But The Wachowskis’ candy-coated Speed Racer takes pole position here, both it and Fury Road odes to color and cars and cubism that you just can’t look away from.
04. Parasite (2019)
Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar win(s) for Parasite early in 2020 feel like the beginning of the end for civilization; just a couple months later, COVID would hit the world and everything would change. What hasn’t, though, is the wide gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and the indignities the latter have to endure to ingratiate themselves to the former for the crumbs they need to survive.
Bong takes on those universal anxieties with his usual mixture of style and pitch-black humor, crafting a package accessible enough to achieve international mainstream success without losing an ounce of its satirical bite. “So metaphorical!”
Double Feature: Fellow South Korean master Park Chan-wook is no stranger to bloody tales of class and revenge, with his beautiful, erotically charged The Handmaiden being one of his very best works.
03. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! is, put simply, a film about America. It’s a tale smeared with oil, blood, greed, and perverted faith, centered around two men (Daniel Day-Lewis’ blustering Daniel Plainview and Paul Dano’s wily, weasely preacher Eli Sunday) in a battle of wills to see whose brand of hucksterism will win in this new world. Half Bergman, half Coppola, and all PTA, it’s the kind of unstoppable picture that grabs your milkshake by the straw and drinks it all up.
Double Feature: It would be criminal not to follow this one up with the other 2007 tale of gruff men raging against the vagaries of existence, the Coen Brothers’ arch neo-Western No Country for Old Men.
02. Get Out (2017)
There’s horror cinema before Get Out, and horror cinema after Get Out. Jordan Peele, at that time known mostly as one half of sketch-comedy duo Key & Peele, broke out in a huge way with his “social thriller” that used the rhythms of 1970s horror to tell a uniquely post-Obama tale of racial predation. This time, the villains aren’t hood-wearing Klan members, but outwardly-tolerant white liberals who fetishize and commodify Blackness as a subtle means of subjugation.
It was an especially novel angle for mainstream audiences, which could have been enough to make it stand out — but Peele made it sing with a shockingly confident command of craft for a first-time filmmaker. It changed the horror landscape for good and ill, as Hollywood has attempted to recapture its lightning-in-a-bottle quality and often fallen flat on its face. But like so many horror imitators, you just can’t beat the original.
Double Feature: Where Get Out ushered in a new wave of tales relishing in Black horror and trauma, I thought it’d be fitting to balance things out with a short, sweet celebration of Black joy: Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock, part of his Small Axe anthology for Prime Video. It’s some of the most vibrant, sensual 70-ish minutes you’ll ever witness on screen.
01. Moonlight (2016)
“You’re the only man who ever touched me. I haven’t really touched anyone since.” It’s a line that cuts to the heart of Barry Jenkins’ revelatory sophomore film, a tripartite tale of a young gay Black man at three different points of his life in Miami. In each act of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s moving script, we float alongside Chiron as he wrestles with what kind of man he’s going to be. The curious child, the vulnerable teen, the hardened adult whose true desires have been stamped out by the homophobia and criminality of his upbringing.
Yet, through the repression, a meal cooked for him, a smile, an arm around his shoulder from the boy he fell in love with as a teen — it breaks through, even for a moment. It’s a snapshot of the kind of innocent, beautiful love Jenkins coaxes out of the hardships of all his characters, but it’s never been as affecting as it is here.
Double Feature: Barry Jenkins followed up Moonlight with another beautiful tale of doomed love and bittersweet yearning, his revelatory James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk. Just try not to cry during the opening swells of that Nicholas Britell score.
Honorable Mentions: 12 Years a Slave, 20th Century Women, Anomalisa, Annihilation, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Cloud Atlas, Drive, Driveways, Gravity, In Bruges, Inside Out, Jackie, Little Women, Minding the Gap, Nightcrawler, Power of the Dog, Raw, Roma, Selma, Tangerine, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Irishman, The Master, Under the Skin, You Were Never Really Here, Zero Dark Thirty